Unless he’s DJing with erstwhile partner John Digweed, Sasha is almost always a solo act, yet it’s only a few minutes into our Zoom call when his youngest daughter enters the frame. She steals the show for a moment but is soon off to school. Only minutes before, her father confesses, she had been in the midst of a serious tantrum. Such is the life of a 4-year-old.
Sasha, however, is “buzzing” with happiness. He spent most of the last year during lockdown at home in Ibiza with his wife, startup founder Zoie Kingsberry Coe, and their three children, and the family time has suited him. After more than three decades working as a touring DJ, Sasha may have been grounded, but he was hardly idle. His pandemic projects included plans for a year-round community music school on the White Island, expected to open inside a local co-working space this summer. Course offerings will include instruction for all ages and levels in a range of subjects from production basics to the business of publishing. Sasha himself expects to teach a production masterclass this summer, using the new tracks he produced for his latest compilation album, LUZoSCURA, released this past Friday.
The collection began as a playlist of downtempo records Sasha curated with his brother-in-law, music supervisor Ben Dumazot, as a way to match the vibe of being stuck at home in 2020. The set’s musical style, including tracks from lau.ra, MJ Cole, and a collab with Franky Wah, diverge from his club-oriented discography, but plans for LUZoSCURA to launch as a (socially distanced) live concept at Alexandra Palace in London later this month are very much on-brand for the DJ.
1. Where are you in the world right now?
I’m in Ibiza. I’ve been here for most of the lockdown. It’s been very peaceful. The lockdown here was very strict, but things did get back to normal-ish once the cases subsided. Kids are in school and playing sports. I know people in other parts of the world have had it much rougher, so we’re quite blessed to be here.
2. Has it been somewhat surreal to be in a place known for epic parties in a year when there weren’t any?
There have been a few secret parties happening — gatherings. But nothing like we used to. Initially last year when it happened here it really felt like Mother Nature was reclaiming the island. The water was clear. There was no litter or pollution. I remember going swimming the day after the first lockdown lifted and putting some goggles on and it felt like you could see for miles underwater.
3. This has got to be a first for you, doing an interview at 9 a.m. that you’re waking up for rather than staying up for?
I’m actually sharper in the mornings these days!
4. You have been known in your day to be something of a party legend. I remember hearing stories about your bachelor party in Moscow and [DJ/producer] Steve Porter was dancing on a bar or something?
That was a long time ago! Three children have arrived since then. It’s a little different now. And actually for the bachelor party, we ended up in Amsterdam because it was safer. The Moscow idea was nixed because we thought we might all end up getting arrested.
5. It’s one thing to leave partying behind, but it must have been strange for you to leave clubs and DJing for the past year too.
Whenever I listen to club music I’m always thinking about what I can do with it and where I can play it. Is this for Womb in Tokyo at 5 a.m.? Is this on the beach in Warung as the sun comes up? When all my gigs dropped out in 2020 it was like, “What am I listening to this for?” So I started listening to different music. I had the LUZoSCURA playlist, but when I started working on it with my brother-in-law, Ben Dumazot, we became methodical about updating it and started to get some momentum. When we posted on Instagram and Twitter asking if anyone had music that would work for the album, within a couple weeks, we had so many people send back music — including artists who I didn’t realize were even following the playlist.
6. You seem like you were surprised by the response.
I’m surprised how quick people turned things around and music came back. If I’d approached them to make music for Last Night on Earth, my club-music record label, there would have been some scratching of heads.
7. How do you think you’ll get back into the headspace to DJ after this?
A lot of club records are weapons designed to make people go nuts on the dance floor. You take the dance floor away and it’s like, “What’s this for?” It’s made me re-evaluate music. It’s made me re-evaluate what I make and what I want to listen to. With the LUZoSCURA album, I feel like I’m through that and out the other side. I can see gigs coming into the diary and I’m getting very hungry to go out and play a banging set again.
8. At this point in your career, is getting back on the decks like riding a bicycle?
It feels a little bit like back in the day when I used to carry vinyl everywhere. I would fill my record boxes with 80-90% new music and then I’d tour for three months and would learn those records inside out. I’d get home and empty out 80-90% of my record box to put more new music in there. That first weekend back when you’re playing with all these new records was always a bit discombobulating. It would take two or three shows to work out how to rebuild your set. I kind of feel like it’s going to be a little bit like that going back on. Once I’ve got two or three sets under my belt, I’ll understand where I’m going with the music.
Also, once we’re allowed back out again, people are going to start releasing some amazing music. You can listen to something at home, but some records are designed to be heard loud on purpose-designed sound systems. They’re meant to be slightly redlined on the mix.
9. You can’t say that! Aren’t less experienced DJs going to be putting it into the red?
With certain mixers, that’s how you get them to sound the best! With an Allen & Heath mixer, for sure. Just a little flicker of red.
10. You seem a little nostalgic for the days of vinyl, but would you really want to haul around boxes of records?
There’s something wonderful about the art of vinyl DJing, and I do miss it. With the avalanche of music you get digitally, the turnover of music in your set is so high. With vinyl, you don’t get that amount of music anymore. It’s much more niche.
11. Do you listen back to your older stuff?
Sometimes. Last year, I pulled out Northern Exposure a few times because we were talking about doing a new release of it since it’s going to be 25 years old. Unfortunately, a lot of these compilations keep dropping off streaming because the licensing on the tracks expire and we can’t track down [the rightsholders]. People just disappear. They go get normal jobs. The labels collapse. It’s one of the things I think about with blockchain technology. Maybe if we’re doing compilations and the digital files are attached to a blockchain, in 30 years time, we’ll be able to trace it.
12. Speaking of your catalog, next year will be 20 years since your first artist album, Airdrawndagger. What are your thoughts looking back on that album now?
I think some of it’s aged well, some of it not. I had a great time making that record, working with JunkieXL and Charlie May. It was a great team of people, I have really fond memories of that.
13. It seemed like there was a lot of pressure back then for it to be commercially successful. Does that track for you?
I put a lot of pressure on myself for that. I had signed a deal with Deconstruction to make an album a couple years before, and I hadn’t delivered it. As each year passed, the pressure got more and more. I’d gotten an advance from them, I’d gotten an advance from my publisher and I think everyone was hoping I’d write some kind of record with big vocal tracks in it that would smash the pop charts. We did this album that was a bit different from that. From their point of view, I think they were a bit disappointed. But I was very proud of it. I still am.
14. You’re from the same generation of artists who went completely mainstream in the EDM moment in the 2010s, but you weren’t caught up in that. How did that feel?
I did some vocal things in the ’90s, and I did a lot of remixes. I could have gone more mainstream or tried to become more pop-tastic, but it just wasn’t me.
15. You aren’t sitting at home wishing you made David Guetta’s career choices?
You mean as I see his private jet take off next to my EasyJet plane? Yeah! But it’s very hard for me to look back at any point in my career and think I should have done this or that. I’ve gotten to where I am and I’m still here. And I’m not a pop songwriter. I’ve always been drawn to instrumental music. Even some of the most famous songs in the world, I have no idea what the lyrics are. I’m always drawn to the melodies and the feelings behind them.
16. Are you following any of the drama around the @BusinessTeshno Twitter account?
Not particularly, no. It seems like a bit of a storm in a teacup to me. It seems like a little bit of sour grapes. The guys that are doing really well at the top of the techno world are suddenly getting backlash from the guys who are maybe playing to 40 people at tiny little clubs in Berlin.
17. When you’re working with younger artists through your label or the LUZoSCURA project, do you feel like you want to advise or guide them through the industry?
If anyone ever comes to me and asks me for advice about touring, of course I can give them a few war stories and some of the things that maybe they shouldn’t do that I did. But people like to make their own mistakes. They like to learn the hard way. They’re having a whale of a time. They’re rising stars. They just jumped on that first rocket of their career, and it’s an incredible time and you just gotta ride it and hope it doesn’t crash and burn.
18. After having a year at home, what do you think you’re going to do differently when things reopen?
I think everyone’s re-evaluated. I think everyone at certain points ate too much and then got really into exercise. There were a lot of personal journeys going on this past year. There’s a lot that I’m grateful for. Spending time with my family and off the road, you realize how intense that lifestyle is when you’re touring and how looking after your health takes a backseat when you’re doing back-to-back shows, not sleeping and going to work at 2 in the morning.
I’d like to think that coming out of the pandemic I’m going to really be strict about taking time off and keeping that family time sacred. But I know what it’s like. Once the gigs start to fly into the diary, it’s hard to say no. I think once it starts to kick off again it’s going to kick off massively, everywhere.
19. Are your kids into DJing?
Not particularly. My son’s into football, my older daughter is an artist and she’s into horses, and the little one — at the moment it looks like she’s going to become a wrestler or something. They’re not really into my kind of music anyway. They like whatever’s on TikTok. I mean, the production on some of the trap and hip-hop music I hear on there is incredible. Some of the drum sounds are insanely good. It’s not really my music though.
20. I’m sure you’re still a cool dad, yes?
I don’t know if I was ever cool. I think I was a geek, I got successful, and then time just flies by. Chasing cool is a bit of a hopeless dream anyway.